realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

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It’s almost time…

People who work in garden centres know that plants sell best when they have flowers on. In the same way, customers often start thinking about planting fruit trees in spring, when days are warmer and the sap is rising. In the winter, people like to be warm and cosy. Fruit trees are different: they like to be handled when it is cold and all the leaves have come off.

Trees evolved their life cycle to survive harsh winter conditions. In winter, there is far less light for photosynthesis, and the low temperatures can easily freeze and kill the leaves. So in the winter months, the tree shuts down, shedding its leaves and virtually halting its uptake of water from the soil, because sap movement has come to a standstill. That’s why January, February and March are the best time to plant fruit trees.

So, if you’re thinking about planting a few trees, now is the time to order, ready for delivery from December to the end of March. It’s also important to avoid planting trees in grass and weeds. Young fruit trees must be given a chance to build up their root systems unhindered by grass encroachment. Always make sure that a square yard of soil around the trunk of the trees is completely free from grass or weeds.

Young fruit trees ready for delivery

Why we should care for trees and their surroundings

Trees all over the globe are the homes of many creatures, which breathe the same air and drink the same water as humans do. All those creatures communicate not only with others of the same species, but with all that lives and surrounds them. Just because we as humans have voices, it does not give us the right to dominate life in all its forms on the planet. Instead we will all be better off respecting each other and trying to understand what makes other creatures tick. For that reason I believe that Schumacher was right when he said “small is beautiful”. Globalization is based on the principle of domination and commercial control for self enrichment.

It is for that reason I believe there is much more we can do close to our homes, to ensure our children will find a world worth living in and giving them the chance to admire all that is alive around them. Only then can we agree with Louis Armstrong when he published his song called “What a wonderful world”.

Cherry blossom, photo Mathias Liebing/flickr.com

Cherry blossom, photo courtesy of Mathias Liebing/flickr.com

Bordeaux mixture, a fungicide for fruit trees

Bordeaux mixture, based on copper sulphate and slaked lime, was first used on vines initially to discourage pilferers. Its fungicidal properties were discovered by chance. Photo courtesy of Diyanski/flickr.com

Bordeaux mixture, based on copper sulphate and slaked lime, was first used on vines initially to discourage pilferers. Its fungicidal properties were discovered by chance. Photo courtesy of Diyanski/flickr.com

Use Bordeaux mixture if fungi have been a problem. The copper in the mixture will stop the damaging spores of these fungi from getting a hold in your trees.

Top ten fruit growing tips for July

Bumble bee

Bumble bee

1. It is very important for the health and welfare of bees to grow the right type of flowering plants favoured by bees for pollen and honey gathering, throughout the summer months. I t doesn’t need to be complicated. At this time of the year Angelica and red clover are definite favourites. Bumble bees are always on the look out for disused mice tracks in the soil. That’s where it likes to build its nest for the queen.

2. Red currants, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are now beginning to ripen. Late-picked gooseberries are sweeter than the ones picked in June.

3. Support heavily cropping branches of plums, apples and pears. However, overcropping will greatly reduce next year’s crop. To reduce the threat of the silver leaf fungus entering via broken branches of too heavy-cropping plum trees , drastically reduce the number of fruits now and space the fruits 6 inches apart, leaving the best sized fruits.

4. Space the apples six inches apart, after the middle of July.

5. Check weeds around trees and bushes. Tie in the newly-forming shoots of loganberries, blackberries and tayberries.

6. Tie in the replacement shoots of peaches. Check the fruit cage for holes in the netting. Birds are good at finding the holes and eating your cherries, redcurrants, blueberries and raspberries.

7. Check tree ties. Too many trees are severely damaged due to ingrowing ties.

8. Place the pheromone traps to reduce the damage caused by caterpillars of the codling moth and plum sawfly now.

9. All fruits need a steady supply of moisture. Check the soil. If too dry, apply water at 10 day intervals.

10. If apple and pear shoots are growing too strongly, remove the growing tips of the new growth. Carry out summer pruning where trees are becoming too dense and light is excluded.

Click here for more growing tips

On pruning

Pruning a young tree

Pruning a young tree. Photo courtesy of London Permaculture/flickr.com

There are numerous publications about pruning. All very interesting and very helpful. However my view is that we should tackle the subject of pruning in a different way. First and foremost we need to be able to distinguish clearly between the difference in appearance of a fruit bud and a wood bud. These buds all look different again, if we look for example at shoots and buds either from apple, pear, plum and cherry, or from peach, apricot, nectarine or almond. I believe if we first and foremost learn to differentiate the state of the buds on any type of fruiting tree, then pruning becomes a lot easier and more satisfying. Because the aim of pruning is not the same anywhere and any time. We can set a target, before we lift the secateur, what it is we want to achieve by pruning the tree confronting us. And there are no two people alike, nor are there anywhere two trees alike. It is the individual that is different. The same applies to trees. The only difference is that the tree is silent and passive and we are noisy and active. Therefore even more reason to think twice before you cut/prune.

The second point of importance regarding the way we prune is very much determined by the fact how the tree has been raised; is it budded, grafted or on its own roots? If it is on its own roots it is likely to be very vigorous. The purpose of grafting or budding the trees on rootstocks, is to bring the tree into production more quickly, and often at the same time finish up with a smaller tree, which is easier from the point of view of picking and tree maintenance.

Click here to read more about pruning

Now is the time to put manure around your fruit trees

Well-rotted manure

Well-rotted manure. Photo courtesy The Word Factory Ltd/flickr.com

Fruit trees do a lot better if regular applications of well rotted straw-based manures are made. Pears and apricots produce better-sized fruits if fed organically. The ideal time of the year to apply this type of manure is now. This gives the worms plenty of time to start working the manure into the soil. Then by about next April the trees are already beginning to benefit.

Pixie

Pixie

Pixie. Photo courtesy of whatamieating.com/flickr.com

This is a delicious small crisp apple. It will keep in cool conditions to well into the New Year. It should not be picked until well into October. Taste it first before you pick it. By nature, all small apples keep better when compared with larger ones. To ensure good fruit size in the variety Pixie, make sure that the tree structure is kept open so that light can penetrate throughout the canopy. Pixie is a healthy tree and a good pollinator.

Click here to go to the Tree Varieties page, where you can select this and other varieties with a provisional order

Newton Wonder

Newton's Wonder

Newton’s Wonder. Photo courtesy of Clive Barker/flickr.com

This is a good cooking apple. Good size and good level of acidity. Suitable for the north of England. However in my own personal experience it has one weakness; it is prone to bitter pit. That means that in the flesh of the apple there are brown spots of a corky nature. It does best on soils with a pH of 6 to 6.3. In these conditions, it remains relatively free from bitter pit trouble. It’s not really suitable for growing on alkaline soils. Picking by mid October is about right. Picked too early it tends to develop bitterpit again.

Click here to go to the Tree Varieties page, where you can select this and other varieties with a provisional order

Laxton Superb

Laxton Superb, image courtesy Eivind Kvamme/flickr.com

A very heavy cropper every other year. Branches will need to be supported to stop them from breaking under the weight of the fruit. Therefore it pays to thin the fruits out in early June. Also the size of the fruit will then be better. It is a good keeping apple but it should not be used as a pollinator. The tree needs to be staked well in case the heavy crop coincides with a gale just before picking time.

Click here to go to the Tree Varieties page, where you can select this and other varieties with a provisional order

A good look once a week

Ladybird, an efficient predator

Ladybird, an efficient predator

A good look at your fruit trees once a week is all its take for your fruit trees to do well.

Trees can look after themselves reasonably well once they have been in the ground for a year or two. It is the first 2 to 3 years when the trees need a helping hand from time to time. This has all to do with the fact that trees, like everything else that grows in your garden, will need to adjust to the prevailing conditions. By that I mean it will take time for the various predators to settle either in or close by your trees to keep the various pests under control. For that reason young trees often suffer from aphid attack at this time of the year. As soon as you notice that some leaves are beginning to curl, open the leaves up. If aphids are present then you have to deal with this. You can either try to remove them with water or organic soap. Or your garden centre will have a wide variety of liquids, organic or otherwise to deal with this problem. You can also try to cut the affected leaves off and put them in the non recycling bin.

In my experience, orchard hygiene and companion planting are the two most important factors in keeping pest and disease pretty well under control, without having to resort to sprays and various chemicals. Patio trees are often found to be in very good condition. The simple reason is that as a matter of routine any diseased or distorted leaves have been regularly removed during the growing season, from the patio.

Therefore it is a very good habit not to let things drop on the ground or anywhere near the trees, but to put diseased twigs or leaves in the non recycling bin. In that way one avoids a build up of various afflictions.

Fruit that has dropped, or rotting fruit, must not be left under the trees.

If your trees are in the chicken run then things become easier still, as the chickens are fond not only of the dropped fruit but also remove lots of grubs and caterpillars which otherwise would have had a go at the ripening fruit.

Many of the scab and mildew spores overwinter on fallen autumn leaves and twigs. To avoid re-infection in the following spring, it pays to remove and dispose of the old leaves by the end of November/ December. From that point of view it is a good move to tie around the trunks of the trees proper grease bands. Most garden centres stock them. It will stop various insects such as the winter moth from crawling up the trunk of the trees and causing damage to foliage and young fruitlets.

As mentioned earlier, over the medium term it is an excellent idea to build up the numbers of predators of the various pests which may harm the fruit and the leaves. Each predator has its own specific host plant, tree or bush. If you have the room to grow these various plants, then the various pests will be kept under control by natural means.

Hover flies, lacewings and ladybirds are all very active in keeping various pests such as aphids and red spider mite at a low level. Nasturtiums, marigolds and fennel attract hover flies into the garden. Earwigs consume many young aphids in various stages of developments. They like to overwinter in upturned flower pots filled with straw or short cut bundles of open bamboo canes.

Provided one is in the routine of feeding small birds such as blue tits and long tail tits during the winter months, these little birds consume lots of grubs and caterpillars which otherwise would have found their way into the fruits. Finally, garlic sprays are abhorrent to many insects. These can be obtained from most garden centres, in case the predator numbers in a particular season are at a low level.

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